Combating Modern-Day Slavery

After weeks of controversy and amid strong opposition in Congress, Dubai Ports World (DPW), a company owned by the government of Dubai, an emirate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), abandoned its plans to manage six ports on the East Coast of the United States. Our ports have long presented a security vulnerability, and Congress and the American people were rightfully concerned about the propriety of allowing a company owned by a foreign government to manage our nation’s seaports.

During the course of Congress’ investigation into the process by which DPW was granted the contract, as Congress examined the UAE and its relationship to the U.S., an issue of concern came to light: the UAE’s troubling record on human rights. The UAE is home to a disturbing human trafficking trend, the selling of young boys into the UAE’s lucrative camel-racing industry to be unpaid jockeys. In other words: slavery.

Slavery is supposed to be a distant memory, but in truth, it’s alive and well — and the use of these unpaid camel jockeys is just one example of it. The State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office estimates that up to 800,000 people are annually trafficked across international borders, human beings bought and sold for $10 billion every year. Approximately 80% of them are women, and as many as half of them are children. Human trafficking is one of the most profitable businesses for international organized crime, following only drugs and weapons, and is one of the fastest-growing criminal activities in the world.

Here at home the numbers are more modest, but our outrage is not. Approximately 18,000 women and children from around the world are brought into this country each year, some smuggled illegally, others lured with visas and the promise of jobs and then coerced into slavery upon arrival. And this does not include the number of persons trafficked from within the United States. The city of Toledo, Ohio, was recently identified as a center of teenage prostitution and sex slavery. Ohio newspapers were full of stories of the girls trapped in this ring, girls as young as 12 or 13, raped, beaten, abused, their bodies sold to enrich their captors. Prosecutors indicted 31 men and women in the Toledo area on charges of taking minors across state lines as sex slaves.

Moral Obligation

We have a moral obligation to fight this evil. Trafficking in human beings is an assault on our most cherished beliefs, that every human being has freedom and dignity and worth. A nation that stands for the freedom and dignity of every human being cannot tolerate the exploitation of the innocent on its own soil. This needs to be a national priority, because it is a global outrage.

In 2005, I led a congressional delegation to Italy, Greece, Albania and Moldova to meet with trafficking victims and government officials and discuss ways to end this crime and protect its victims. During this trip, and later during hearings I held as chairman of a House financial services subcommittee, I heard testimony on the economic and financial implications of human trafficking, as well as the heartrending stories of trafficking victims. Their stories of rape, torture and routine brutality are simply beyond description.

Congress passed, and the President signed, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This legislation strengthens the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act to keep the U.S. at the forefront of the global war on this modern-day slavery. Included in the $360-million package is an expansion of the Operation Innocence Lost program, a nationwide initiative that aggressively pursues sex traffickers and child prostitution rings. Over the last two years, the program has rescued more than 200 child victims and helped uncover the Toledo sex trafficking ring.

Congress has also recently taken steps to target demand for sex trafficking. Provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that I authored along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D.-N.Y.) will provide state and local law enforcement with new tools to target demand and investigate and prosecute sex trafficking, fund a national conference on best practices for reducing demand for sex trafficking and fund a review of the incidence of sex trafficking in the U.S., to provide us with a more accurate picture of the scope of this problem.

Our law enforcement strategy must be wedded to a vigorous partnership between government agencies and private and religious organizations on the front lines of this struggle. For years these groups have helped rescue and support trafficking victims and raise awareness about the fight against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a heinous crime, a betrayal of one of the most basic obligations of morality — the obligation to defend the innocent. The presence of this scourge in our midst cannot and will not be tolerated. But those who would so debase themselves and the human family by buying and selling women and children are beyond mere reproach. They will not respond to outrage, but to action.